Middle East Airlines Start Return to Normal After Saudi-Led Blockade Lifts
Qatar Airways plans to resume flights to Dubai this week and says it expects to return to Bahrain soon without specifying a date. Flights between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) halted abruptly in 2017 after a row broke out between the Persian Gulf monarchies.
The blockade ended earlier this month. It began in June four years ago, when Saudi Arabia and several Gulf monarchies made a list of demands of Qatar, including reining in the often critical Al-Jazeera news network and curtailing ties with Iran. When Doha refused, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and several allied countries in the region cut diplomatic ties and sealed their borders with Qatar.
Airlines ceased flying to Qatar and the blockading nations prohibited Qatar Airways from using their airspace, forcing the airline to fly circuitous routes to many of its destinations. Qatar CEO Akbar al-Baker recently said the reopening shaved as much as two hours off flights to São Paulo.
Although flights over the blockading nations’ airspace resumed almost immediately after the January 5 agreement, flights to and from Doha have been slower to come back. Qatar’s resumption of flights to Dubai is an important symbolic move. Flights between Doha and Dubai resume on January 27.
Airlines in the region have been adding flights back tentatively. Air Arabia was the first to resume service between the UAE and Qatar this week. Qatar Airways and Saudia began operating between Qatar and Saudi Arabia last week. Qatar began operating to Egypt on Monday. FlyDubai is expected to begin service to Doha this week.
Etihad will start flying between Abu Dhabi and Doha on February 15. Dubai-based Emirates has not determined when it will resume flights to Qatar, a spokeswoman told Airline Weekly.
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is suspending all long-haul routes to the Netherlands in an effort to contain the spread of Covid, Reuters first reported. The carrier operates 270 weekly long-haul flights. KLM released no timeline for the resumption of service. As a result of halting long-haul services, the Amsterdam-based carrier said it will furlough or lay off another 1,000 employees.
- Continuing its opportunistic expansion during the pandemic, Southwest Airlines is out with routes for its new service to Fresno and Santa Barbara. Flights between Santa Barbara and Denver, Las Vegas and Oakland begin April 12, and then — two weeks later — between Fresno and both Denver and Las Vegas on April 25. The cities are the 11th and 12th new destinations for Southwest since Covid-19 hit last year.
- Minneapolis-based discounter Sun Country Airlines will add nine new cities amid a 16 route expansion that begins in May. Cincinnati, Fairbanks, Hartford, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Indianapolis, Jackson Hole, Kalispell, Orange County, and Raleigh-Durham will join its network with nonstop flights to Minneapolis/St. Paul between May 6 and May 29. In addition, Sun Country will add routes between Houston and Cancun on May 27, and Las Vegas on Sept. 2; Dallas/Fort Worth and Orange County on May 6, and Puerto Vallarta on May 28; San Antonio and Cancun on May 28; and Orlando and both Indianapolis and Hartford on Sept. 2.
- Frontier Airlines is adding three new sun runs this spring. The Denver-based discounter will connect Miami with St. Thomas on March 7, and Punta Cana on March 8 with twice-weekly service on both routes. Three days later, the airline will launch daily service between Orlando and Phoenix.
- As part of its new Northeast Alliance with JetBlue, American Airlines has set dates for two new long-haul routes from New York JFK. Daily flights to Tel Aviv begin May 6, and to Athens on June 2. The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier will fly Boeing 777-200s on both routes.
- Qatar Airways on June 1 will resume flights to Atlanta, the 12th city it is reopening in the U.S. Flights will be four times per week to start. The Doha-based carrier also is upping frequencies to Chicago (10 weekly flights); Dallas-Fort Worth (10 weekly flights); Houston (daily); Miami (three weekly flights); San Francisco (daily); and Seattle (resuming January 29 four times weekly, rising to daily in June).